0

Feds open probe of oil spill

Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

PORT FOURCHON, La. -- Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday that federal authorities have opened criminal and civil investigations into the nation's worst oil spill, and BP lost billions in market value when shares dropped in the first trading day since the company failed yet again to plug the gusher.

Investors presumably realized the best chance to stop the leak was months away and there was no end in sight to the cleanup. As BP settled in for the long-term, Holder announced the criminal probe, though he would not specify the companies or individuals that might be targeted.

''We will closely examine the actions of those involved in the spill. If we find evidence of illegal behavior, we will be extremely forceful in our response,'' Holder said in New Orleans.

With the ambitious ''top kill'' abandoned over the weekend, BP's hope to stanch the leak lies with two relief wells that won't be finished until at least August. The company is, however, trying another risky temporary fix to contain the oil and siphon it to the surface by sawing through the leaking pipe and putting a cap over the spill.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said Tuesday that BP was making its first major cut with super shears that weigh 46,000 pounds and resemble a giant garden tool. The company will also use a powerful diamond-edged cutter the resembles a deli slicer to try to make a clean cut above the blowout preventer, then will lower a cap over it with a rubber seal.

After several failed attempts to divert or block the well, BP's latest attempt involves cutting the broken riser pipe, making it spew as much as 20 percent more oil into the water for days while engineers try to position a cap over the opening.

Eric Smith, an associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute, said the strategy had about a 50 to 70 percent chance to succeed. He likened it to trying to place a tiny cap on a fire hydrant.

''Will they have enough weight to overcome the force of the flow?'' he said. ''It could create a lot of turbulence, but I do think they'll have enough weight.''

BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said there was no guarantee the cut-and-cap effort would work. He did say the company has learned from past efforts to contain the leak, which gives them a better shot at success.

''I'm very hopeful,'' Suttles said. ''I think we'll find out over the next couple of days.''

The cleanup, relief wells and temporary fixes were being watched closely by President Barack Obama's administration.

The president gave the leaders of an independent commission investigating the spill orders to thoroughly examine the disaster and its causes, and to follow the facts wherever they lead, without fear or favor.

The president said that if laws are insufficient, they'll be changed. He said that if government oversight wasn't tough enough, that will change, too.